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Amazon adventure
Local teen wins trip to South America

CONYERS - While many Rockdale County high school students are spending their summer at home by the television or on a family vacation to a nearby beach, one will be on an exotic trip to the Amazon.

Rayjhan Bethune, a rising 10th-grade student at Heritage High School, leaves Sunday for an eight-day trip to the Amazon.

He and nine other Georgia students won an essay writing contest, Planet Green: Amazon Adventure, through the Atlanta-based Frank Ski Kids Foundation Inc.

In early May, Bethune's mother heard on V103 radio station that the foundation was holding an environmental essay contest. She told him about it, and he decided to go online to enter.

"I'm very passionate about the environment and see changes taking place now that we need to address," he said. "My father always presses me to do more and more educational activities, so I thought I could do this."

The assignment was to write a speech about what he would do to save the environment if he was president of the United States.

"I would start a program for children, which would teach them to respect the environment and show them the future if they don't," Bethune said. "I would also be concerned with global warming and deforestation."

A few days after he submitted his essay, he received notification from the foundation letting him know he was in the top 20.

On May 22, he and the 19 other student contestants delivered their presidential speeches in front of a panel of judges and a couple of hundred guests.

"I was a little nervous, but not as nervous as I thought I'd be," Bethune said about giving his speech.

The next day, he stood by the radio to see if they announced him as a winner of the contest. To his surprise, his name was announced on the station along with the name of nine other students who would accompany him on a trip to the Amazon.

"I was very proud of him," said his father, Ray. "I think kids should be striving to get the best out of their education as they can. ... You could end up winning a simple contest."

Bethune will leave today for the eight-day trip, which he is so excited about that he has been researching the Amazon daily since he was announced as the winner.

"I've only been out of the country to the Bahamas before," he said. "This is a wonderful opportunity. Most people my age - most people period - don't get to go to places like this."

On the trip, he and the group will stay at the Ariau Amazon Towers, a treetop hotel, and take classes with Zoo Atlanta and Georgia Aquarium officials, learn survival skills, meet local tribes and learn alligator spotting and piranha fishing.

"I want to see the animals," Bethune said. "I've never seen an alligator in person ... (and) I love fishing."

Before the trip, the young adventurers will have to wash their clothes in a treatment that will prevent ticks and flees from jumping on them, take medicine to prevent malaria and apply strong mosquito spray.

National Geographic also will record their experience and air a special show at a later date.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.